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Clippers-Wizards preview: Find Right Potion

After two gritty wins, the Clippers meet up with the Wizards, who are riding a 5-game win streak. Key matchup battles are all over the place and whoever wins the most battles will win this war.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

March 20, 2015, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
Prime Ticket, Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
15-11 East 25-18
29-14 West 15-10
9-3 Division 8-6
25-10 Home 25-10
19-15 Road 15-18
18-21 .500+ 12-20
26-4 .500- 28-8
1-1 OT 3-2
6-4 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG John Wall
J.J. Redick SG Bradley Beal
Hedo Turkoglu SF Paul Pierce
Blake Griffin PF Nene Hilario
DeAndre Jordan C Marcin Gortat
Advanced Stats
96.81 (11th of 30) Pace 95.78 (19th of 30)
109.2 (1st of 30) ORtg 102.6 (15th of 30)
103.5 (17th of 30) DRtg 99.9 (3rd of 30)
Matt Barnes (Questionable) Hamstring
Kris Humphries (Questionable) Groin
Jamal Crawford (Out) Calf
Garrett Temple (Out) Hamstring

Wizards lead season series over Clippers; 1-0
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
Washington D.C.
Wizards 104, Clippers 96
Box Score

Harry Potter and Friends
After getting Blake Griffin back, the Clippers have gone 2-1 with the only loss being a last second loss to the Rockets at home. Those happen. But the two wins haven’t looked great outside of stretches here and there. That is to be expected, though, when two of your six best players are out of action. There’s no telling, as of right now, if Matt Barnes will be good to go for the game against the Wizards but, either way, the team will have a battle on their hands. The upside for the Clippers is that they’re 11-6 in their last 17 games and almost all of those games have featured the team being without one of their best players. The other good news is that they’re in the 5-seed as of right now and just 3 back in the loss column of the 3-seed. It’s still in play for them.

He Who Must Not Be Named
Despite playing like utter garbage for about a month, it appears that the Washington Wizards are finally back as a team that seems serious about winning games once again. They started the year 31-15 then hit a ridiculous rough patch where, in some part due to injuries, they looked very blasé. From January 28 to February 27, they managed to go just 2-11. Since then, though, they’re 7-2 and riding a 5-game win streak that has seen them beat the Grizzlies, Trail Blazers, and Jazz. Wednesday night’s game against Utah was one they tried to give away but ultimately hung onto. They presently, like the Clippers, reside in the 5-seed and sit just 2 back in the loss column of the 2-seed at this juncture. Barring a cataclysmic collapse and a Bucks run, Washington will be a top five seed.

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Comparison of Key Metrics
It’s strength against strength and weakness against weakness in this game for the most part. The Clippers have trouble slowing teams down defensively but the Wizards, in large part due to their bad offensive philosophy, have problems scoring at times. The Clippers offense and the Wizards defense will provide one of the most fun matchups of the year thanks to Washington’s great defensive backcourt and the Clippers great offensive backcourt. It also features the Clippers poor offensive rebounding – 27th in Offensive Rebound Rate – against the Wizards great defensive rebound – 3rd in Defensive Rebound Rate. Washington, as a team, ranks 4th in the NBA in Total Rebound Rate whereas the Clippers rank 19th. Keeping the Wizards off the glass, or just maintaining a level playing field there, will be a big deal in this contest. Both teams force opponent’s turnovers at the same rate but the Clippers turn it over considerably less. However, in their first meeting the Clippers turned it over more times and lost the points off turnovers battle by nine. Keeping that under wraps is another pivotal factor.

More good news for the Clippers is that their schedule is starting to ease up despite the injuries that are taking place. They didn’t look great against either the Hornets or Kings but pulled those games out. After they play the Wizards, they get the Pelicans at home on Sunday afternoon before having two days off prior to heading out east to play the Knicks, 76ers, and Celtics – three teams with a combined winning percentage of .296. These five games should see the Clippers go about 4-1 or 3-2, depending on how long the injuries linger. For the Wizards, this is the second stop on a 4-game Western Conference road trip that sees them play the Jazz, Clippers, Kings, and Warriors. The last game is the second night of a back-to-back for them, unfortunately. But, for their chances of moving up, their schedule looks okay. They still have two games with the 76ers left, a game against the Knicks, and two games against the Pacers. All games they should win.

X-Factor: Entire Bench
It seems rather cheap to point out Washington’s whole bench as their X-Factor but it’s true. The team has not played well since the All-Star Break and the bench is a major reason why. The only bench players shooting over 40 percent since the break are Kris Humphries, Garrett Temple, and Kevin Seraphin. The issue with that is Temple is out and Humphries is questionable with a groin injury. The rest of the bench, from Otto Porter all the way to Ramon Sessions and Rasual Butler, has been subpar. Nonetheless, either one of these guys can have a big game. The Clippers bench isn’t exactly great and they’re prone to giving up scoring runs to other benches. They cannot let that happen in this game or else it’ll put the starters behind the 8-ball against a good starting lineup themselves. The man to watch from deep is definitely Butler, even despite his massive cold spell from three-point land. Keeping guys like Drew Gooden, DeJuan Blair, and Seraphin off the glass will also be a big deal. Then there’s also how Austin Rivers and Nate Robinson can handle Ramon Sessions and how Dahntay Jones, if he still gets wing playing time off the bench, can deal with Porter.

Hylander Invades Poland
In the very first meeting of the year, Marcin Gortat got the best of DeAndre Jordan despite only pulling down just two rebounds. Gortat used his offensive repertoire to pour in 18 points in 22 minutes on 8-for-10 shooting. Jordan was able to haul in 8 rebounds but only had 11 points in 25 minutes. Gortat’s ability to step out and hit mid-range jumpers is a major weapon that Washington can throw at Los Angeles and Jordan. It pulls Jordan out of the paint and allows the Wizards to run their pick-and-roll action to either free up weakside shooters, like Bradley Beal, or get easy buckets for guards at the rim. It’s a good way to counteract DeAndre’s reluctance to step outside the paint and defend bigs who can shoot. This is why Washington is such a tough matchup for the Clippers. Gortat is a good rim protector on top of being a good pick-and-pop guy. He’s almost the total package as a center outside of the gaudy rebounding numbers. Outplaying the bigs of Washington is a must and it starts with Jordan against Gortat. Neutralizing the Polish center could determine how this game goes, especially if Jordan is able to attack the offensive glass and generate fouls on him.

Elite Point Men Meet
It seems almost nightly we talk about Chris Paul going head-to-head with another great point guard but this matchup between Paul and John Wall is truly a special once considering what each man means to their respective squads. If there is a point guard who can challenge Paul for the “best two-way point guard” title, it’d be Wall. His ability to attack off the pick-and-roll and create separation enough to launch mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper is uncanny for a player like him. Then you combine that with his phenomenal defense – plus his ability to get to the rim at will – and you have the makings of a guy who most every team in the league would love to have running the show for them. The main exception to that would be, of course, the Clippers. While Wall is a good mid-range shooter, Paul might be the best in basketball at those elbow shots. His keen sense of anticipating and dissecting defenders is second to none, as is his decision making and passing prowess. But if there’s a close model to Paul, it’s Wall. They’re the best players on their respective squads and they’ll certainly showcase it once again. It’s not really student versus master but more like the famous picture of Harry Potter and Voldemort battling it out and seeing their magic meet.

Griffindor’s Back But Not Completely
Since coming back, Blake Griffin is averaging 16.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 5.7 assists but has also turned the ball over 3.7 times per game. The good news is he’s shooting 50.0 percent from the field and 91.7 percent from the line. The bad news is that he’s not shooting well from the outside since his return. That is to be expected, though, due to the fact that it was his shooting elbow that was injured. It’ll take quite some time for that form and feeling to come back. Griffin’s just 2-for-12 on shots from 16+ feet since he returned and his shot comes off as flat. The upside is that he is rebounding. So that’s great. He’s posted three straight double-doubles and even posted a 19-10-5 line against the Kings on Wednesday night while adding in two blocks. It’ll take time for him to shake the rust off. The good news is that he did get the rest he needed, though. Too often he goes into the playoffs on tired legs and looking dead by the middle of a series. Now he gets to get his legs back underneath him and heads into the playoffs with some time off during the middle of the year. There’s no doubt that Griffin will round into form by the playoffs and be a force to reckon with during that time. If anything, we’ll look back and be happy he got the rest. His defense is still a work in progress but a lot of that is due to rust and fatigue from getting his energy back up. Griffin hustled on defense Wednesday and that has to be applauded.

The Value of Redick
It’s hard to sit here and deem one guy more important to the Clippers offense than the next but, outside of Chris Paul, J.J. Redick has to be the most important player offensively for this team. It’s almost as if the team goes as he goes. The first play of the game usually always gets run for him and he’s been as reliable as could be since that poor opening three game stretch of the year. Since January 1st, Redick is averaging 16.0 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 46.5 percent from the field, 42.0 percent from three, and 98.4 percent from the line. He’s 60-for-61 from the line over that span. Since the All-Star Break, though, he’s upped his scoring to 19.1, his rebounding to 3.5, and his assists to 2.3 while still maintaining a 46-39-97 shooting split. There’s still some discussion over whether or not the Eric Bledsoe trade was worth it for the club but Redick makes it worth it just because of the way his movement and shooting opens the floor for everyone else offensively. If Kyle Korver is getting credit for doing the same thing in Atlanta – albeit at a much higher level – then Redick should get the same respect across the league for doing it in Los Angeles.

Washington’s Wild Rollercoaster
Before we get to the wild ride the Wizards have been on, it should first be discussed as to part of why they’re on this rollercoaster of a stretch. Washington takes a lot of mid-range jumpers. A lot. From 8-to-24 feet this year, they’ve taken 2238 shots. They’ve attempted 5585 total shots. 1284 of their 5585 shots, though, have come from 16-to-24 feet which is the long two area of the court. Yes, they are shooting 40 percent on those jumpers but that’s a hefty amount of shots from one area. It’s exactly 23 percent or, better yet, roughly a quarter. Only 20 percent of their shots come from three. Essentially, they’re taking more shots from the long two spot than they are from three. Because of this, when they have droughts in scoring, they have problems generating better shots. Wednesday night against Utah, they lived on tough mid-range jumpers late in the game to sustain their lead. That’s hard to live off of. But back to their struggles. They’ve won five in a row but done so against a bad Charlotte team, a Memphis team who rested nearly everyone important, a bad Sacramento team, a Portland team without Wesley Matthews, and, in what is probably their most impressive win, against Utah on the road. They almost blew a 25-point lead in the Portland contest. Look, Washington is a good team. They’ve just struggled lately after peaking so early. Injuries definitely played a part but their organizational philosophy has also played a part. Tough shots are hard to make a living off of and hard to sustain leads with when that well runs dry. It’s just a little concerning that they rank 24th in Offensive Rating since February 1st.

Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers are connected due to their time in Boston, where Glen Davis and Nate Robinson were also members of the Celtics. Marcin Gortat, J.J. Redick, and Hedo Turkoglu were all teammates a while back with the Orlando Magic. Andre Miller, Drew Gooden, and Rasual Butler are all former members of the Los Angeles Clippers. Dahntay Jones and Nene were teammates on the Denver Nuggets. Chris Paul and Martell Webster are forever linked due to draft night back in 2005 when Portland traded the third pick for the sixth pick, thus passing on Paul in favor of Webster. Ekpe Udoh, Gooden, and Redick were teammates on the Milwaukee Bucks for the latter half of the 2012-2013 season. Clippers assistant Sam Cassell was on the Wizards staff last year. Current Wizards assistant coach Howard Eisley, who replaced Cassell, was a member of the Clippers for a few games back in 2005-2006 before being waived. And, finally, Doc Rivers and Randy Wittman were teammates on the Atlanta Hawks for the first five years of their NBA careers.

Wikipedia Entry
Wizards of Waverly Place was a teen sitcom on Disney Channel that ran from October 12, 2007 to January 6, 2012. It involved a family named the Russo’s who ran a sandwich shop. The three teens on the show were all wizards. Oddly enough, one of them was named Justin Russo and I always get questions about it whenever I show my ID when I’m out for drinks. There was an episode of Seinfeld called ”The Wizard”, which was an organizer that Jerry bought his father as a birthday gift. Ernie Roth was named the ”The Grand Wizard of Wrestling” and inducted into the 1995 WWE Hall of Fame as a manager and infamous heel. He was noted for his outfits, wraparound sunglasses, and turban decorated with jewels and feathers. To put it simply, he was awesome.

105 101
Injuries will finally catch up with the Clippers in this game and the Wizards will take advantage of a lackluster Clippers wing rotation to pull out a close affair. John Wall’s injured right ankle that he tweaked against Utah will limit a lot of his effectiveness but Paul Pierce will take Hedo Turkoglu to task quite a bit, forcing the Clippers’ hand. Clippers have chances to win the game late but ultimately fall short under the Wizards tough defensive pressure.
Team Leaders
Points: Blake Griffin (24) | Rebounds: DeAndre Jordan (16) | Assists: Chris Paul (11)